5 expert tips for productive virtual meetings

“I love meetings,” said no one, ever. As we navigate the new normal of coronavirus precautions such as working from home—meaning more conference calls and virtual meetings—staying connected to your coworkers and clients is paramount. So how can we ensure that our teams stay productive and engaged?

Here are some psychologically proven strategies that can help you conduct effective and productive virtual meetings.

1. Start with something positive.

When you begin a call or virtual meeting, you can’t assume the whole team is attuned. Grab their attention by starting the meeting on a positive note. Positive emotions serve two functions: They broaden our perspective and they build social connection and function, priming us to come up with innovative ideas and solve challenges.

As managers, we can bring out that positivity in several ways. Go around the virtual room and have people set a one-word intention for the meeting, report what they are most proud of that week or share a funny or interesting story. Remember to use the lit-match technique: Tell participants to imagine they are holding a lit match when they contribute. You don’t want them to burn their fingers, so they should try to keep it short and to the point.

2. Play your whole team.

Getting the whole team to engage is key to productive conference calls. Chilean psychologist and researcher Marcial Losada discovered that high-performing teams had a 1:1 ratio between asking questions and making a point—what I call inquiry versus advocacy.

Try keeping track of who is talking until balancing participation becomes second nature. Pay attention to how much advocating versus inquiring is going on. Are people really curious and asking questions? Or are they simply waiting for their turn to talk? If you notice that some people dominate the conversation, you might ask to hear from someone you haven’t heard from—invite them to weigh in on the topic of discussion.

3. Make “being present” mandatory.

One of the biggest productivity killers during meetings is multitasking. Studies show that we lose up to 40% of our productivity due to “flip-flopping” between tasks (and devices). Make turning off mobile phone and computer alerts an explicit meeting norm. Ask your team to wait until after the conference call to send texts or messages unless absolutely urgent.

4. Meet regularly.

You can create an intimate community in a virtual environment through regular gatherings. Make sure to keep up the weekly or bi-weekly meetings you would normally have in the office. In this time of uncertainty, people may be feeling isolated or lonely, making connection all the more important. If daily 15-minute stand-up meetings were part of your culture pre-coronavirus, then keep them going. This is a great way to take the pulse of your team, see how people are faring and offer each other support.

5. Practice the “peak–end rule.”

Endings matter. Nobel Prize–winning economist Daniel Kahneman developed the “peak–end rule,” which explains that people will remember and judge an experience by its “peak” and by its end. Just as you want to begin virtual meetings with positivity, you also want to end with it, leaving team members feeling energized and empowered.

So if you schedule a virtual meeting, leave 5 – 10 minutes at the end for a wrap-up to make sure action items are clear. This is another opportunity to use the lit-match technique. Try going around the virtual room and asking, “What are you taking away from this call that you are most excited about?” Or take the time to recognize an individual or team for their contributions and excellent work.

For those who must adjust to working from home during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, you can foster connection and engagement among your teammates by using these expert tips to make your virtual meetings more productive.

Get tips to improve virtual meeting performance here.

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